This year’s election might promise to be the most controversial we’ve ever seen. The never-ending stream of debates, mud-slinging TV ads, and Facebook arguments make it hard not to get dragged into name-calling and frustration.
As Christians, it’s our responsibility to think carefully about our choice in the ballot box. But I think it’s very likely that God cares more about how we talk about politics in the weeks leading up to this election than who we actually vote for. Why do I say this?
First, because God cares about our hearts, and what we say comes out of our hearts (Luke 6:45, Matthew 15:18). Second, the standout characteristic of Jesus’ followers is supposed to be our love for each other (John 13:35). And third, the object of our lives is to bring glory to Christ, and how we behave in front of a watching world says a lot about who God is (1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 4:5-6).
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on applying “What Would Jesus Do?” to your life and conversations in election season 2016.
1. Show grace.
I fail at showing grace all the time, because the way I act doesn’t line up with the things I say I love. In theory, I love truth. In reality, I love being right. In theory, I love peace. In reality, I love avoiding confrontation because people might not like me anymore. In theory, I love graciousness. In reality, I love other people thinking I’m gracious.
If you know your weaknesses and pray over your responses (and never write or speak when angry), your conversations will be a better reflection of Christ.
This also means speaking in a considerate way even if the person you’re engaging does not. We can’t control their words or reactions, only ours.
2. Beware the echo chamber.
Today, we can hand-select the voices we listen to, from talk radio, to broadcast and print media, to online chatter, muting and scrolling and un-friending until the information we take in is all from a bias that resembles our own. That’s not always a bad thing, but it can be.
So if you have a friend (real or the Facebook sort) who is vocal about positions different from yours, instead of feeling defensive, first be appreciative. This is a rare and interesting chance to understand and empathize with fellow human beings who come to totally different conclusions than you!
And by “understand and empathize,” I don’t mean affirming everything people say. You’re free to disagree, even debate (although I’ve found that’s better done in person than in the virtual world to avoid misunderstandings). But don’t be afraid of challenges to the ideas you hold, and work toward understanding the other side.
3. Don’t be offensive.
Jesus said the gospel would be offensive, and it is. That is not what I’m talking about here.
We have to balance the difficult truths that Christ could be sarcastic and harsh at times when critiquing the religious leaders of his day (not the pagan Romans, interestingly) AND that Christ was completely loving and gracious all the time. Being omniscient, he knew exactly what people needed to hear and how to present it, and he was incapable of making an unloving choice.
Christians are not Christ. This means we need to give careful thought to what it looks like to speak the truth in love because it is not our default.
Let’s get uncomfortably specific. First, don’t call names. Think before you say, “anyone who believes X is delusional” or “only idiots would vote for Y.” There is almost always a more respectful way to express your view, and one that might actually lead someone who disagrees with you to consider it instead of just making them angry.
Second, be really careful with humor. It can easily come across as offensive, and while we can’t cater to everyone’s delicate feelings, for me, an important part of being gracious is giving up my need to be witty. If I have to trade my punchline, cutting joke, or insulting meme for a chance to respectfully engage with those who disagree with me, I’ll do it.
4. Don’t be offended.
From personal slights to trigger warnings to Internet witch hunts against misinterpreted offhanded comments, we are in the most easily offended generation of all time.
Here’s a difficult truth: If you are a follower of Jesus, you should sacrifice your right to be offended. Every day.
I don’t care if we’re talking a petty annoyance or an insult to your character. You can choose to not take offense and respond in anger. It’s what we’re called to do. To set the example, Jesus stood there while people mocked and spit on him while he was stripped naked and bleeding… and he forgave those people.
Practically, Romans 12:17-18 sums it up, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
If we apply that verse to election season, it would look something like this: Don’t respond in kind if someone is being rude. Think about—take time to carefully consider—how what you say might be interpreted by others. Do everything you can to live at peace with others, not just the bare minimum… but realize that not everything depends on you and sometimes you will not be able to live at peace with everyone.
The world doesn’t need more rants, more overreactions, more name-calling, more reinforcement of the ideas we have always held and will always hold.
The world needs more grace, and Christians are in a unique position to show it during this controversial election. We need to listen and love more and realize that we can still be committed to the truth of the gospel as we do so. As believers, we should bring peace to a chaotic world instead of adding to the noise.
Amy Green works in the world of book publishing and blogs about issues of faith, culture, and ordinary life at themondayheretic.wordpress.com. She tries to avoid inflammatory Facebook arguments from her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Publication date: September 19, 2016